Has some of the vitality gone out of the Arts Collective?; what might that mean to culture in this city?

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

August 24th, 2015


When the Arts and Cultural Collective of Burlington was created it was unique and became the place to go to if you wanted to know what was happening in the arts community which had become of age in this city. Their Facebook page became a source of information that pulled the community together – and it worked

Collective masthead

The Arts Collective had a presence – they were making a difference – now their Facebook page is being used to sell high end sun glasses and Point of Sale equipment for restaurants.

It was refreshing – they kept the membership limited – at one point you had to be referred by an existing member to get on the list.  They were effective – they convinced the city to take another look at how artists were going to be treated with their contributions to the new web site – the city wanted to use picture – not pay for them and not even give a photo credit. That got changed.

The Cultural Action Plan that was researched by Jeremy Freiburger and his team over at the Cobalt Connection was a strong starting point. The Arts Collective liked what they saw but they wanted more involvement in the detail part of the cultural plans and also in the roll out in whatever was decided upon. They also wanted the final Culture Plan to include an Arts Council that would make grants available to artists.

A couple of months ago they began talking about how many members they had – and the size of the list became more important that the quality of the content.


The younger, feistier set knew what they needed – they had done their homework – their challenge was to find their voice and make it hard.

It was a moderated information source – which meant that messages that weren’t appropriate did not get posted.  The person doing the moderation must have been asleep at the switch the past couple of months – there have been advertisements for high end sun glasses and then something for travel and now someone wants to sell a Point of Sale cash register system. “Perfect for any restaurant or retail business, …” using the Collective site as the advertising vehicle

This isn’t what the Collective was created to do. When it got off the ground a couple of years ago there was all kinds of really positive energy and they came up with very good ideas. They took possession of the agenda and pushed city hall to add resources to the cultural file.

They wanted to see culture moved out of the jock mentality many people saw dominating the Parks and Recreation department and they wanted to see more dollars put into the cultural field.

The province then got into the Cultural business with the promotion of Culture Week that was a decently done during its first year.

Noack interview - city culture days 014

Civic square buzzed during Culture week last year – with the increased involvement on the part of the cultural manager Angela Paparizo we may see even more activity.

There are apparently all kinds of plans for Culture Week this year but there hasn’t been much coming out of city hall yet – the individual artists are promoting the events they have taking place – there is a Ping Pong and Poetry event that will take place at the new HiVe now located on Guelph Line. Local artist Margaret Lindsay Halton is running that event.

The organizational structure of the Arts Collective has always been a little undefined – personalities and ego began to take up too much space and the purpose began to get lost.

There is still time for the Arts Collective to recover – but they don’t take too much time doing it. They could and should play an important role.

There is still some very good energy within the citizen side of the arts. The Guilds at the Art Gallery of Burlington are becoming more active – management over there is expecting the guilds to be more visible and they are living up to the expectation.

Performing Arts Centre Brian McCurdy makes a point with the Mayor.  He is making points all over the city as he brings about a different working relationship with the Centre and the city.

Retiring Executive Director of the Performing Arts Centre Brian McCurdy stabilized the Centre – losing him is going to hurt for awhile.  A new leader will need some time to get a sense as to how the Centre and the city work.  In this photograph McCurdy is briefing the Mayor on parts of his thinking

The No Vacancy people will be putting on their third event in September – this time on Old Lakeshore Road basically outside Emma’s. September 17th from 7 pm to midnight.

Last year they recorded 3500 + visitors. This year the event will be called SuperNova and they think they will double last year’s attendance. They have put on the event for two years with nowhere near the funding available to Culture Week and have in the past produced much stronger more vital programs. This year, for the first time they got some funding from the city – courtesy of Councillor Marianne Meed Ward who advocated for the small grant they got.

One of the hurdles that few people see coming is the wallop the Gazette thinks the taxpayers are going to face when the real costs of the flood are going to have on the 2016 budget. Reports that have been given to Council point out a number of close to pressing amounts that are going to have to be spent real soon.

It is going to amount to millions with an expected new line on the tax bill for the management of storm water.

The cultural file just might take a hit – more money is going to have to go into infrastructure; council has been told that transit needs a lot more attention, especially when looked at through an intensification lens and the city is still salting away money to pay for our share of the hospital redevelopment.

Some tough work ahead of this Council – which is going to be difficult because all the members of this Council don’t sing from the same page in the hymnal.

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7 comments to Has some of the vitality gone out of the Arts Collective?; what might that mean to culture in this city?

  • Thank you for stirring the pot, Pepper. You have raised some good points.

    As the others mentioned, we have been busy behind the scenes doing the volunteer work that has to be done to achieve the goals we brainstormed when we were as you put it “younger and fiestier”.

    The CAPIC leadership & granting sub-committees were formed 6 months ago, and I’m sure it won’t be long before we can share a milestone or at least a status update with the ACOBB FB group.

    Since you have included a photo of me painting during Culture Days last year, I thought I would mention I will be participating again this year – due to the nature of the event I consider it just as another way I am contributing to the local arts community. I hope you will come by and add a few strokes to my Collaborative Painting… you could even end up going home with it!

  • Jim

    If you are a member of ACCOB, please consider stepping forward. Not all Board members need to be artists. They may have other things to offer such as a legal background, financial management and people with experience sitting on an arts board etc. We are looking for five to thirteen members to step forward. If there are more than 13 candidates, an election will be held at the next proposed ACCOB general meeting. (possibly October 6, 2015 location and time tba)
    1/ Attend monthly meetings of a two hour duration.
    2/ Organize and plan at least quarterly meetings for ACCOB members.
    3/ Make decisions on ACCOB’s future directions.
    If you are interested, please PM me or email
    Send your resume /CV and if possible organized to explain what you have to offer ACCOB. ie…such as: a dance, visual arts, music, theatre, craft, media arts, etc. board experience, public art gallery board, written and received grants, etc.
    Include an email address for further contact.
    Jim Riley

  • Thanks for this article, Pepper. As others have noted, there is indeed considerable activity happening at both CAPIC and the two subcommittees that have been formed to address matters detailed in the city’s Cultural Plan. The other issue is that so many of us are indeed on summer hiatuses.

    However, we do indeed need to galvanize the entire community again. Some of this will be happening around the upcoming federal election. And we are planning an all-members meeting for later in September. Once the date is established we will forward it to you with the expectation that you will assist us to spread the word to those interested parties who are not yet members of ACCOB.

    You will be hearing from me very shortly about the exciting events I and others are planning for the Sunday of Culture Days. We will have approximately twenty of the city’s finest artists and organizations performing from all genres in the Burlington Performing Arts Centre.

    As always, thanks for your commitment to the arts in our community.

  • There is also a distinction that needs to be understood by those who work in the Burlington arts & cultural industries between those who perpetually seek government assistance, and those who do not. These are two completely different ‘breed of cat’ with two completely different sets of ‘definitions’ & ‘values’ about the necessity, importance & impact of art & culture by, and for, the local community. I’d say a lot of the quiet schism within this group, at present, lies on this above-noted undeclared ‘cultural worker’ distinction. Art and cultural ‘appreciation’ has many different levels. As a ‘ticketed event’, the Teddy Bear Picnic, organized by the RBG, is intended to appeal to a broad range of families looking for a bit of playful fun. That does not diminish its impact or ‘necessity’ anymore then a ‘FREE’ (government grant subsidized?) obscure mock-funeral installation/performance procession to the Art Gallery of Burlington. BOTH have their place and both IMPACT on the City. And, thank goodness, patrons still have a CHOICE.

  • Very thoughtful article. Thanks for writing it. I think it’s tough to be an artist or an arts organization in this city. We haven’t even fully articulated what that means to us as a city yet. And there is very little available to us in the way of resources, support and opportunity. So we have to be scrappy, DIY, and resourceful to make any impact.

    2016 will be No Vacancy’s fourth year of operation and it has been an uphill battle every year. These events cost a tremendous amount of money to host. But we do it because it matters. We are in dire need of an arts council and organizations who are capable of supporting and funding creative innovation.

    I am hopeful that we will emerge as a creative hub. There is a definite energy brewing here, even though it may have been a quiet summer for some. We have a great new CEO at the AGB, artists like Kyle Tonkens doing really innovative work and Teresa’s Art in Action Studio Tour. It is things like this that build the fabric of our culture.

  • tenni

    I agree that the vitality is missing from ACCOB. I don’t think that the summer outdoor art exhibitions play a major factor. Could it be that there were people within ACCOB who did not want it to develop into a structured organization? Are these same players sitting on the the city committees about arts & culture? All have the best of intentions but ACCOB is lost at the moment.

    I believe that it is the approaches and thinking that is stifling risk taking creativity in Burlington. The arts of the city has been so long ignored that those who developed beyond techniques that amateur to love learn continue to leave. Arts & Culture is what it is in Burlington. It is a small city some argue. You can not expect arts in Burlington to be on equal footing with others? Promoting a Teddy Bear picnic is seen as culture rather than entertainment on Burlington ACCOB page. The inclusion of the word “culture” may hinder development. Time will tell.

    The loss of an emerging professional dance company (Form) to Hamilton is sad. There may have been personal reasons not to stay in Burlington. NO Vacancy is doing an admirable job but it is unclear if NV places much value on what other communities have Arts Council advocates to educate emerging organizations, event and festivals. Burlington will get the arts council that it deserves but it needs so much more to be vibrant. How many Burlington artists received an OAC or CC grant in the past three years?

    Burlington needs more cultural risk takers. There remains little infrastructure for this. One point five staffing is inadequate. Roads may come first but both the arts and roads are essential.
    Just what will an external body end up as?

  • I agree Pepper things have been a bit quiet as of late. But lets not forget it is summer and little gets done during summer. Many of our memebers are still working hard for the communtiy. Many of us sitting on CAPIC, Grant and External Body Comittees. Artists spend a great deal of their time during the summer at show and tours. Both No Vacancy and the Art in Acton Tour are gearing up and both hope to attract many to the area.
    As you mentioned the face book page became a bit of a contreversial place to be and I for one stopped following for a time as could not afford the time it took to filter through. However I do still find it to be a good resource for infomation about upcoming events and local issues.
    We have a strong artistic community here in Burlington and am still proud to be a part of it.